Being on the cusp of electing the first woman president, and defeating a snarling, newly crass, and nationalist Republican Party should feel energizing for the American left. But it's been tiring. The Democrats aren't just electing a woman. They're stuck electing this woman, Hillary Clinton. It's been a slog.
Clinton could not easily put away her socialist challenger Bernie Sanders. She would not release the transcripts of the paid speeches she gave to Wall Street banks. She could not name her accomplishments as secretary of state. She could not quite escape her own role in managing the political fallout from her husband's affairs, or the appearance of corruption in the Clinton Foundation's pioneering work in the field of do-gooder graft.
When FBI Director James Comey gave us a healthy reminder of Clinton's email scandal last week, liberals must have realized: It's not just the campaign. The Clinton presidency is going to be a slog, too.
The Clinton standard of political behavior has always had a lawyerly slipperiness to it. When the scandals come, it depends on your definition of "is." When the headlines erupt, suddenly we discover that all of Clinton's friends signed an affidavit contradicting the latest accuser or whistleblower. And, really, what difference, at this point, does it make? Partisans will note that Clinton's ethical lapses and faults are minor compared to Donald Trump's. Those comparisons are not going to matter in a few days.
Some may object. They'll reply that the only problem is the aggressive prosecutorial zeal of the Republicans. And it is true that Republicans have an ongoing grudge against Clinton. But let's posit the existence of a vast right wing conspiracy that hates President Obama just as much as it hates the Clintons. Why is it only able to turn up news-driving scandals on the latter? Could it be that Obama, however detested by conservatives, conducts himself with higher ethical standards than Bill and Hillary?
Clinton's scandals and misdeeds often have little to do with the Democrats' battle with Republicans. Clinton played fast and loose even with the Obama administration's own rules. Obama had forbidden Clinton from giving a government job to the Clinton's on-demand schemer Sidney Blumenthal — yet Clinton kept him on the payroll of her "charity" and kept up correspondence with him about Libya, even as he had business interests in a post-Gadhafi state. Despite explicit rules set by the Obama administration, the Clinton Foundation continued to operate as a bank in which foreign leaders and governments could deposit their quids, while Clinton was at the head of the State Department, able to distribute pro quos in return.
Beyond the propensity to generate scandal, there is a larger reason that Clinton's administration will be a slog. The 2016 election has been characterized by a demand for great change. And Hillary Clinton has run as the defender of the way things are, the way they're going, and who they're going for.
Hillary Clinton received a vigorous challenge from a left wing that isn't afraid to label themselves socialists. America's center-right party ditched its commitments to establishment doctrine on free trade and liberalized immigration, and challenged the wisdom and justice of America's post-Cold War political order. But Hillary Clinton will enter the White House as the caretaker for the status quo in American political life.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were not the men to carry forward this message of discontent to real political triumph. Both candidates represented their cause poorly. Trump was at once too crude and unethical himself. And Sanders had none of the political instincts and savvy to really go after Clinton in the primaries.
Clinton is the face of a prosperous, grasping establishment that won't bear challenge from the left or right. Her ability to survive scandal after scandal will not be received as some testament to her political canniness or some deep integrity. It will be received as just the system defending its own from attack. Her survival and her ability to win is a a tribute to the power and self-regard of our political class. And this class has no plausible solution for the nation's foreign policy, for its immigration system, or for an economic system that abets the elite's secession from their own nation.
Clinton's presidency will be a slog because she is exactly like the system she defends. She can point to the great wealth this system produces for its top clients. But neither she nor her cheerleaders can really claim that it looks like wisdom or justice to anyone else.